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Adam Higginbotham Books In Order

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Publication Order of Non-Fiction Books

A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite (2014)Description / Buy at Amazon
Midnight in Chernobyl (2019)Description / Buy at Amazon
Challenger (2024)Description / Buy at Amazon

Adam Higginbotham is a British journalist, former editor-in-chief of The Face, and a retired U.S. correspondent for The Sunday Telegraph Magazine. At one point, he worked as a contributing writer for The New York Times, Wired, and The New Yorker. Adam is the author of Midnight in Chernobyl, published in 2019. Simon and Schuster published the book and won the William E. Colby Award for Military and Intelligence Writing in 2020, won Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Non-Fiction, and was listed as one of the 10 best books in 2019 by the New York Times.

In his book Midnight in Chernobyl, Adam Higginbotham grabs the reader’s attention with attention to details on the human side of the tragedy at Chernobyl. Through his narration, we get a better understanding of the lives of those who worked at the plant during that doomed night, their backgrounds, their families and friends, and their everyday lives. The author narrates the unfolding of this disaster in detail, allowing us to feel their dismay as their lives and world crumbled. Besides describing what happened and the aftermath, Adam Higginbotham details why the nuclear reactor failed and its impact on Soviet society. Through this, we get a glimpse of what it was like to live and work in the 1980s Soviet led by a dysfunctional authoritarian government.

The author explores this tragedy on three levels. The first is the human toll, deaths, and displacement of thousands of people. The second part is the technical factors that led to the reactor failure and the failure of the administrators and scientists that resulted in the disaster. The third part is the deeper underlying issue of the authoritarian Soviet government that resulted in all the suffering.

To provide housing for the people who built, maintained, and ran the nuclear power plant, the town of Pripyat was established close by. On April 26, 1986, reactor number four blew up, releasing massive quantities of radioactive elements into the air. The plant’s scientists and technicians initially downplayed the severity of the accident. They were skeptical that the reactor was capable of exploding. Radiation exposure would kill a lot of them.

The town’s residents were misled by the authorities, who assured them that everything was controlled for the first 36 hours. Leaders of the Soviet Union desired neither pandemonium nor the negative press. However, the reactor’s core had self-destructed, resulting in a radioactive conflagration that could not be abated using conventional methods. Radioactive particles continued to descend on the town as residents went about their usual weekend activities, many of them outdoors on an otherwise delightful spring day. Suddenly, they were informed that they must evacuate. There were over a thousand vehicles queued up. The citizens were instructed to take only what they could use for a day or two. The vehicles delivered them individually to rural and small-town families instructed to take them in.
As it would turn out, Pripyat was never reopened. It turns out that the authorities still lied to its former citizen. The citizens were permanently relocated, as would thousands of people living in the adjacent town as the extent of the contamination spread across Pripyat’s town.

Radioactive particles were scattered far and wide by the winds and rain. More than 100 kilometers away, Kyiv shut down its educational institutions in mid-May and relocated thousands of students, their mothers, and pregnant women. They were dispersed throughout Ukraine, with many going to summer programs and even Crimean resorts.

Staff and first responders exhibiting symptoms of acute radiation illness were sent to a hospital in Moscow without notifying their families. Numerous people would never again see their loved ones. They would all perish from radiation sickness. The accounts of their deaths are harrowing, as visible injuries resolve and the patient seems to recover, only to die to the endless radiation that destroys vital tissues and organs. Thousands more from Pripyat and neighboring areas would perish prematurely due to compromised immune systems and cancers caused by radiation.

What exactly caused the accident? According to Higginbotham, poor design contributed to the explosion. The flawed design resulted from an insular scientific community led by a bureaucracy infatuated with its inventions. They were also under intense pressure to construct the reactors quickly and cheaply, so many design stages were omitted, and readily available, albeit inferior, technology was utilized.

The training and standards governing the operators constituted a secondary issue. While Higginbotham portrays them all as competent and well-intentioned, they were not always ready to tackle the tasks at hand. The disaster came while administering a test they had neither run nor practiced. Errors were committed. Because the designers withheld the necessary information from them, the operators could not predict or comprehend why the reactor became unstable. They were all convinced that the reactor could not blow up. It took those working and their management several hours after the detonation to realize it had occurred.

Most of Higginbotham’s book is devoted to the aftermath of the reactor explosion and radiation exposure. First responders attempt to extinguish the fire and assess the scope of the structural damage. Many of them would get acute radiation illness, apparently ignorant of the location’s extremely radioactive location. Radioactive debris was dispersed throughout the area surrounding the reactor. Everyone feared a second blast as well as the China Syndrome. If any fragments of the core were to sink into the ground, they could pollute the drinking water supply for Kyiv, which is densely populated.

As one strategy after another failed to provide the desired effects, teams of workers and government representatives would participate in cleanup efforts after cleanup efforts over the years. The Soviet leadership’s refusal to acknowledge the real root cause of the calamity and the magnitude of destruction and contamination was a significant obstacle to the remediation. Government leaders and scientists kept insular and didn’t ask for assistance from other nations. All cleanup strategies were homegrown and were frequently determined by persons with authority but no experience.

Higginbotham has conducted meticulous research. He provides copious notes. He conducted interviews with individuals who were present, members of their families, individuals involved with the Soviet nuclear program at the time, and individuals involved with the containment effort. He had access to recently made available files. Perhaps most importantly, he made us want to read this remarkable book by placing the human story first. Today, when nuclear power facilities continue to be built and are viewed as a means to combat global warming, and hence this book will remain relevant

Book Series In Order » Authors » Adam Higginbotham

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